How Depression and Anxiety Impact Your Physical Health

Jan 11, 2023
How Depression and Anxiety Impact Your Physical Health
Even though we sometimes refer to them separately, your brain is part of your body and influences almost everything that goes on within it. If you’re depressed or anxious, those mental illnesses affect your physical health, too, and vice versa.

You wouldn’t avoid the doctor if you broke an arm or a leg. But when faced with a mental illness, somewhere between 30-80% of women and men around the world don’t seek help, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

To make matters worse, WHO estimates that the pandemic triggered a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide. 

That’s a lot of people who are suffering in silence. And a lot of people who are subsequently at risk for serious physical illness, too. 

If you have anxiety or depression, Jared Brink, FPMHNP-BC, Troy Fulton, FPMHNP-BC, and our expert mental health team at Mesquite Valley Integrated Health take it seriously, and so should you. Depression and anxiety are disorders that could put your health or life at risk. 

We offer a number of effective, science-based treatments for depression and anxiety at our Mesa, Arizona, offices. Following is a brief description of how depression and anxiety affect your physical health. By treating depression and anxiety, you also reduce your risk for chronic health conditions and disease.

How anxiety affects your body

Humans and other animals evolved to respond quickly to threats so they could then engage in either “fight or flight”: address and conquer the threat, or flee to safety. A threat — such as being confronted by a predator — triggers the release of the hormone cortisol (sometimes called the “stress hormone”). 

Cortisol puts your body on alert, diverting blood from the digestive system to the heart, lungs, and muscles, so you’ll have the energy needed to either fight or flee. It also affects the neurotransmitters in your brain. 

In short bursts, cortisol makes neurotransmitters more active, leading to more brain plasticity. If cortisol remains high, however, the brain actually becomes less plastic and less able to adapt or process information quickly and accurately.

If you have chronic anxiety, your body is in a near-constant state of alert and arousal that’s not related to a particular threat. Instead of helping your body fight or flee, the high levels of cortisol overstimulate your organs, leading to physical problems and diseases such as:

  • Indigestion
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Anxiety over-stimulates your entire body, which doesn’t allow you to relax and restore. Treatment teaches you new ways of interpreting perceived threats and managing stress so your whole body functions better.

How depression affects your body

Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand. However, chronic depression isn’t as common as chronic anxiety. It’s normal to feel sad or to grieve from time to time; only about 6% of adults, however, go through a prolonged period of depression. 

As with anxiety, the way the brain reacts during depression affects your other organ systems, too. When you’re depressed, you’re more likely to have:

  • Chronic pain
  • Insomnia
  • Sleep apnea
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Asthma
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Alzheimer’s disease

In addition, depression puts you at risk for self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide itself. If you think you may harm yourself, head straight for the nearest emergency room or contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. 

Treating mental illness helps physical health

Unfortunately, despite the high prevalence of mental illness in this country, there’s still a stigma against seeking help. But getting treatment for mental illness is just as important and valid as seeking help for a physical ailment or injury.

In fact, if you struggle with chronic pain, diabetes, and other conditions, depression or anxiety may contribute to your disease. Chronic disease also influences your mood. Treating underlying illness, as well as depression and anxiety, can improve your entire well-being. 

Through medication and talk therapy, you learn to manage stress differently, so that you can relax and learn new coping mechanisms that make you feel in control of your life again. You may also benefit from ketamine infusions.

Ketamine increases glutamate, which is the largest neurotransmitter in your brain. Ketamine may also help your brain grow new neural pathways, which aids your brain in processing information.

Mental illness isn’t “in your head.” It’s a real disease that deserves treatment so you can thrive and enjoy your life again.

If you or someone you love exhibits symptoms of anxiety or depression, contact our compassionate and supportive team for a PTSD diagnosis and treatment today by calling the office or requesting an appointment online.